This Week in Games - Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth

by Dustin Bailey,
The world as we know it is falling apart. Humble Bundle is running a special on trashy softcore VNs, and while I'm totally willing to admit that HuniePop is some okay smut, the presence of those infinitely-reproducing Sakura games is just a bridge too far. Now FF15's director is trying to discourage nude mods by directly addressing them, and I just can't even deal right now. Let's move forward.

First Impressions — Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth

Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth opens with an amnesiac heroine, and within five minutes moves to a bathhouse scene where ladies envy over one another's breast size. The game has its roots, of course, in a decade-and-a-half old bit of adult software, so it shouldn't be surprising that there's a fair amount of pandering. But the really astounding thing is how well the visual novel avoids being insufferable, and while that may seem like a backhanded compliment, it's also a genuine one.

Mask of Truth directly follows the events of Mask of Deception (released earlier this year in the West), which spent much of its runtime setting up the political events which would put friends on opposing sides of the conflict starting here. If the slow pace of the previous game's story dissuaded you, it might be tempting to jump into the more immediately dramatic events of the sequel, but despite Mask of Truth's wartime setting, things don't really move much faster here. It's still a lot of slow, repetitive dialogue and setup, with hours passing between significant payoffs. The game does an admirable job of recapping the previous game's events, but if you weren't invested in those, you won't be interested here either.

Your reward for patiently enjoying that dialogue is a world with a surprising amount of depth and history, filled with interesting little cultural touches and traditions. The in-game glossary doesn't just run down character names and tutorials, but rather serves as a Bioware-style codex collecting all that lore and world-building. And despite the improbable number of hot, flirtatious women in the cast, the characters usually reach beyond their own tropes to be more interesting and engaging than that. (Usually.)

Beyond being a competent VN, Utawarerumono's other trick is being a strategy RPG. Check your expectations—like the previous game, the SRPG stuff is a small part of the overall package, and battles come only after hours of dialogue. Yet the battle system is a pretty engaging one, with enough unit variety and strategic considerations to make for a solid break from all that reading. It's not overly deep, especially when you consider the nearly endless rewind function letting you try turns over and over again, but it works.

The big thing Utawarerumono lacks is choice. The story is the story, and you only occasionally have an option in what order some dialogue scenes play out. Near as I can tell a few hours in, there are no branching paths, no decision points, and no paths to alternate endings. That does serve to make you feel less connected to the events, more like a passive observer than a true participant.

It probably speaks volumes that “competence” is Utawarerumono's defining trait, but that fact really is surprising given how frequently it panders and how slowly it's paced. The fact that it's able to escape that shadow at all is pretty astounding, and if you dug your way through Mask of Deception there's no reason not to finish the story in Mask of Truth.

NEWS

NINTENDO'S RELEASING A NEW SNES GAME IN 2017, THEY'RE REVEALING INTERNAL DESIGN DOCS, IT'S GENERAL PANDEMONIUM

The SNES Classic preorder debacle is a capital-T Thing, but there's just so much negativity already out there in the world, man. Let's focus on the positive, man. Like the fact that Nintendo is finally releasing Star Fox 2 over 20 years after its cancellation, revealing the final version of the game—not a prototype ROM—to the world for the first time.

The big N quietly released a Star Fox 2 manual this week, and it's cute and all, but the interesting part is the included behind-the-scenes material. Graphed out maps of the game's routes, breakdowns of the medal system that weren't included in the prototype, and a full set of tech drawings that look like something out of those Gundam books you always wished you had. This is a SNES game capable of showing roughly three polygons at a time, and the ships were detailed down to the joint structure necessary for their transformation. It's really cool.

RESIDENT EVIL 7 IS GOING GOLD, UH, AGAIN

A little bit reboot and a little bit sequel, Resident Evil 7 was a delightful new direction for a series that had kind of lost its way. Y'know, as “delightful” as any game so prominently feature chainsaws can possibly be. You might recall that the end of the game teased a free story add-on featuring Chris Redfield for release in spring, and despite how questionable the presence of a post-credits advertisement might be, the idea of new and old RE intermingling there was intriguing.

Obviously that whole thing got delayed, but the promised Not a Hero content will be coming out on December 12th, alongside the final piece of paid DLC. That'll be titled End of Zoe, which forces me to make referential allusions to the choices you make in the main story while avoiding any actual spoilers, which has proven to be challenging. New enemies, new swamp area, and Zoe's in it. Boom.

Capcom will, of course, do as Capcom does, and they're putting out a Gold Edition of the game bundling all the DLC into a single package alongside all this. That package will presumably be $60, so if you already bought the game and season pass, then don't do that again, I guess? That process isn't uncommon, but it still sucks, even if RE7's DLC has been pretty good so far.

CAN WE PLEASE JUST CALL IT DEAD RISING: THIS IS A PENIS JOKE?

Speaking of Capcom doing what Capcom does, Dead Rising 4—admit it, you already forgot that it came out—is escaping Microsoft exclusivity and coming to PlayStation 4 with a port entitled Frank's Big Package. If you read that with a sigh, read it again. Out loud. Own that phallic humor.

The “big package” refers to the inclusion of all previously released DLC and a selection of Capcom costumes that'll apparently give Frank special powers. Street Fighter folks and some Mega Man representatives are naturally there, but the real news is the inclusion of Ghost Trick lead Sissel.

I feel like I wanted to play more Dead Rising when 4 came out, but then I just didn't. The reviews weren't awful, but the game's sales were lackluster enough to start making headlines. Maybe this'll bring the series back around? I'm afraid the clock's ticking on ol' Frank's continued relevance.

UPCOMING RELEASES

MONSTER HUNTER STORIES
Developer: Marvelous
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: 3DS
Release Date: September 8
MSRP: $39.99

Monster Hunter Stories, confoundingly, is not a new Monster Hunter. Instead of a hunter, you play as a rider, taming dragons to ride and leading a party of monsters into turn-based battles. The story (yes, a Monster Hunter story) served as the basis for the recent anime of the same title. Even if you're not a fan of hunting games, this looks like a very solid cutesy RPG.

YS VIII: LACRIMOSA OF DANA
Developer: Nihon Falcom
Publisher: NIS America
Platform: PlayStation 4 / PlayStation Vita / PC
Release Date: September 12
MSRP: $59.99

Ys VIII once again sees Adol Christin off on a journey to a distant land, but this time his inevitable shipwreck leads to the founding of a castaway village where you take some role in the town's growth—which honestly sounds pretty rad. I've been digging through the Ys series bit by bit in recent weeks, and I'm looking forward to finally digging into this one.

ALSO AVAILABLE:
Drive Girls is a Vita game, and it's one of the most quintessentially Vita games I've ever seen, as a Tamsoft-developed action game featuring cute girls who turn into cars during battle. Senko no Ronde 2 will be bringing a hybrid of fighting game and shmup to PC and PS4.


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